Saturday, December 16, 2006

Congestion: Asthma in the Electricity Transmission System

When utiltiies do not have enough electricity from their own generation they import from other utilities or merchant generators. Bottlenecks in the transmission lines prevent transmission of enough electricity and raises the price of this power for everybody (congestion charges). New transmission lines are needed but NIMBYites restrict the building of lines whenever and wherever they can. They are supported by professional environmentalists and environmental organizations.

The Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that congestion charges add $8 billion, about $40 per person, to electricity charges to about 200 million people on the Eastern grid system. Transmission lines have not been maintained and expanded to keep up with growing electricity demand. The weaknesses in the transmission system also serve as a barrier to successful deregulation. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 prevents state and local officials from blocking new lines. Provisions from this law will probably be needed by Dominion Power to build new lines across the Allegheny Mountains to serve Northern Virginia.

The Department of Energy estimates that peaking plants are now being used 40 percent of the year instaead of just during times of peak electricity use just to keep enough electrons on the grid. Another factor is that congestion charges are not broken out separately in the average residential customer's electricity bill. (New York Times)

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